Paul Westbrook: More on Gaining Support for Sustainability at Texas Instruments: Working through the Politics of Difficult Change Post example

A wonderful example of using personal interests outside of work to help promote an important initiative comes from Paul Westbrook, at the time a project manager of worldwide construction at Texas Instruments. Paul is passionate about sustain able practices in companies out of concern for environmental degradation and a long-standing distaste for waste. There was a modest movement growing in the United States around these concerns, but many enthusiasts within companies had trouble getting anyone in power to respond. Texas Instruments had a significant number of environmental and sustainable efforts at its facilities around the globe, but Paul wanted to find the lever to move the company to the next level. Meanwhile, his passion had also led him to use green techniques when building his house, which used passive and active solar energy.

Paul has a BA in mechanical engineering and started at Texas Instruments right out of school. He had always worked in facilities operations of the company, for example, clean room design and management, and enjoyed it. But he had not given up on his dream of raising the bar on more sustainability.

When he heard that there was a possibility of building a new wafer fabrication plant, he thought that it might be a possible starting point. He knew that it was always easier to use sustainable practices in a new building designed from scratch, rather than trying to retrofit existing facilities. He was worried, though, because semiconductor fabs are so expensive to build that usually companies take the last design and do minor incremental changes, rather than attempt breakthrough approaches.

He went to a vice president he had previously worked with, who had always been passionate about sustainability and often been his sounding board. In fact, she was the originator of the term “ZERO wasted resources,” which has be- come an environmental movement slogan. Together, they star ted to scheme about how to get the senior vice president (SVP) of manufacturing to buy the idea. In the course of that discussion, Paul asked whether it might be a good idea to bring the SVP to his solar house to see what was possible. She thought it was a great idea and agreed to join the visit.

Paul invited the vice president of worldwide manufacturing, a vice president of an existing fab, and Texas Instrument’s chief technology officer on a tour of his solar house. The executives invited on the tour were engineers and were very interested in the engineering aspects of the house. At the end of the tour, Paul showed them his utility bill. The average energy cost for his house had been $60 a month, while regular home energy bills averaged $150 to $200 a month. He said, “You could see the light bulb turn on.” They moved from asking technical questions about how the house functioned and started asking more business-related questions such as whether it could scale to an office building or factory, what kind of support he would need to make this happen, and so on. This then led to conversations about logistics of the project and how to proceed.

Eventually, they decided to go ahead. Paul’s boss put him in charge of sustainability, rather than assigning him to just one function such as air conditioning, so Paul could work as an integrator of design ideas and practices.

To help the process, Paul developed a formula for overall return on investment, and got the team to agree that the sustainable items would be built if it were possible to show the equivalent of a 5 year simple payback. All costs are contained within that formula, making it easier to make decisions.

The conservation measures were not an incremental cost when everything was taken into account. In this way, total costs are kept within bounds. His fellow engineers became very enthusiastic about designing for sustainability.

Notice that Paul was able to get interest when he showed his personal example in his own house and that, at first, he got only a question about feasibility. The argument, however, was framed in terms of monthly energy savings, a currency that executives definitely valued. He didn’t have to make up any numbers, but he did talk to them in terms they cared about, instead of in a currency he cared about far more, sustainability. It doesn’t always turn out that you can make such a powerful argument in the other people’s currencies, but his experience only reinforces the idea that you need to think of what the audience cares about, not just what you do. And the ability to make an impression outside of work helped a lot.

Note also that he developed accounting tools for demonstrating benefits to make ongoing decisions, which is another form of indirect influence—using systems to influence behavior.

When the fab was finally fully in production, it cost 30% less to build, became TI’s most efficient fab, 40% more efficient than a sister fab running down the road.  They did the same process in the Philippines, and it became more efficient than other assembly test factories.  Then they focused on existing factories in the world, to make them more efficient.  In less than 9 years, they cut energy in half (doubled efficiency per chip). 

Sometimes Currencies Depreciate and Willingness to Exchange Ends

Nevertheless, despite the success in increasing energy efficiency, when Paul and his team proposed moving to the next step of installing solar panels, at no out of pocket cost, the proposals kept getting turned down by a new senior management. Paul tried everything he could think of, but when he requested a chance to speak directly to the CEO, he was told he absolutely could not. In his view, political concerns and a refusal to listen had replaced open ears, and after 30+ years, he took retirement, and started his own energy consulting firm.

Based on personal interviews with Paul Westbrook, 2005, 2017.